Herman Cain and His Ever-Changing Sexual Harassment Story

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If you’ve been tuned into the 2012 presidential campaign, you probably know a lot about Herman Cain, the former Godfather’s Pizza guy who has this 9-9-9 plan for taxes and fixing the economy.

No one, probably least of all Cain, thought he would gain the kind of traction he currently has as the potential GOP nominee.  In reality, Cain has a book he’s trying to sell, and, well, tossing your hat casually into the ring for a political race is a great way to sell books, right?

Except that in the Republican ‘anyone but Mitt Romney’ dystopia, Cain is, at least for the moment in the polling, a frontrunner.

Whether he remains at the front of the pack will depend on how we, as voters, respond to the ever-evolving story that he may have had a little problem with sexual harassment charges.  You know how we love a good story about personal failings and sex!

Few of the actual details of the alleged incidents while he was the head of the National Restaurant Association are available — yet — because the women who accused him signed confidentiality agreements when they settled their claims against Cain.  It looks like that will be changing soon, as Cain has now given us several versions of what supposedly happened and one of the women involved was given a year’s severance pay as a result of the allegations.  Another is trying to get a waiver so she can come forth with her version of the facts.

While the reports about Cain are the flavor of the moment in our 24/7 news cycle, I’m wondering — will the stories ultimately matter?  I’d like to think that in the 21st century, that if the allegations against Cain are true, it would be a negative enough reflection on his judgment that he’d be out of the GOP race.  But I know better than that.

I’m not sure things have changed sufficiently enough in the last few decades that voters would say “no” to a candidate who made unwanted sexual advances toward his then-employees.   Are we still a country with a mindset that 20 years ago gave a pass to Clarence Thomas when Anita Hill came forward with reports of unwanted sexual advances?  Things really haven’t changed a lot when it comes to the level of respect, or disrespect, that women have in our society. And, we do have quite the history of giving powerful men a pass when it comes to their “indiscretions.”  I was a big fan of Bill Clinton, but there are still many people who wonder how he was able to remain in the White House after the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Ultimately, the question is whether this is a story about sex or one of judgment and leadership.  Or what if another theory is true –maybe someone in the Cain camp realized he was in over his head and made sure that someone stealthily leaked the information?

Presidential politics is always a crazy game — at this point, nothing would surprise me.

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